Small Business

Knipp Equipment sees business grow along with customers’ expectations

Coming out of college, John Knipp liked the science behind the commercial heating and air-conditioning industry.

“In a way, it’s a perfect science,” he said. “There’s a right answer. There may be more than one path to that answer, but there’s a right answer. That appealed to me – a perfect science rather than an opinion.”

The business possibilities weren’t too bad, either.

Knipp (pronounced Ka-nip) will mark his 25th year as a Trane equipment franchisee in 2015. In that time, he’s seen his company, Knipp Equipment, grow from seven employees to 50.

Knipp earned an engineering degree from the University of Missouri and went to work for Trane’s franchisee in Wichita in the early 1970s, later buying the operation.

He said the industry had already received one big boost when air conditioning became practically mandatory. Air-conditioning and heating systems were mostly what he sold at the beginning.

Knipp added service technicians and parts sales to his business. Federal government mandates regarding the use of chemical refrigerants also increased the demand for technicians trained to handle them.

In recent years, he’s added three more components to his business: building system automation, energy services, and a training center for his employees and clients.

Knipp is located in two buildings holding about 15,000 square feet of space on Ida, just off Douglas. The sign out front reads “Trane,” but Knipp said his company has always handled equipment made by other manufacturers as well.

For the past couple of years, the company has been shifting toward “soft branding” itself as Knipp Equipment with a website and other moves, its owner said, but he added that he won’t change the sign out front.

“That’s our flagship product.”

Knipp holds the Trane franchise for the western two-thirds of Kansas. The company sells and services equipment but doesn’t actually install it, a job done by mechanical contractors. It often deals with end users, usually in conjunction with consulting engineers.

Its clients are schools, health care facilities, the military, manufacturers, retailers and office buildings ranging from a few thousand square feet up to some of the biggest structures around. In addition to climate control, Knipp gets involved in some manufacturing processes, such as ensuring that the temperature and humidity in paint booths are precisely maintained.

Knipp doesn’t do residential work.

“It’s pretty tough to be good at both; that’s why we segregate,” Knipp said.

Energy services is his industry’s fastest growing sector, Knipp said. As for automation, commercial customers who might have been satisfied with one or two thermostats in the past now want 10 to 50.

In general, clients are more particular, he noted.

“Noise has gone from something they tolerated to, ‘It’s too loud; we want a system that’s quiet.’”

Those higher expectations have just meant more work for Knipp.

The owner’s two sons, Doug and Andy, work in the business along with a nephew, Christian. John Knipp expects the younger generation to carry along the business, which has been cited in several “best places to work” surveys for everything from its employee retention efforts to the quality of its snacks.

“It’s an open door environment,” Knipp said. “We encourage people to be self-starters. We don’t punish mistakes – we learn from mistakes.”

Now you know

Knipp Equipment Inc.

Address: 120 S. Ida

Phone: 316-265-9655

Owner: John Knipp